Carrickfergus excavation reveals second castle for the town.
Extensive excavation work on a family-run hotel in Carrickfergus has uncovered secrets of a type of castle dating back to the 1300s.
A joint project is underway to investigate the Dobbins Inn building with funding from the owners, Carrickfergus Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI), Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for Communities Historic Environment Division (HED).
Experts will examine just how much of the castle still survives. The tale of the building is a complex one, but it is finally beginning to unveil its secrets to us.
Work on the outside of The Dobbins shows that there have been at least three major building phases throughout the structure’s long history. The first phase was the construction of a medieval, urban tower house, possibly as early as the 1300s, which would have been occupied by a merchant or trader.
This phase can be seen in the ground and first floor. A sawn off scaffolding timber can still be found in the wall, which experts are now working on to see if it can be dated.
Originally the tower house would have stood to the second or third floor, but was lowered and extended to create a house in the 1700s.
Tower houses were primarily for defence and as the modern era developed, the need to display one’s wealth become more important. The extension on the tower house also allowed for the insertion of fireplaces, which are so familiar to us today.
In the 1800s, as Carrickfergus once again grew as a strategically important town, new buildings were constructed around the Dobbins Inn. It is likely that the addition of the second floor dates from this era, as does the roof.
The bricks are of local manufacture, and the windows would have been wooden sashes. A metal tie was also inserted to reinforce the junction between the stone wall and the new brick addition.
Deputy Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, Councillor Cheryl Johnston said: “This scheme shows our commitment to working with locals and HED to further heritage and economic opportunities within Carrickfergus and across Mid and East Antrim.
“This has been the first time the Dobbins Inn has been formally investigated, and it has been a success for both the owners and the town of Carrickfergus.
“Our aim to work with local businesses promoting the wealth of heritage within Carrickfergus has been strengthened by this joint research project and we are delighted with the results. Thanks must go to the National Lottery Players whose continued support makes it possible to undertake projects such as this.
Hotel Manager Kirsty Fallis said: “The interest in the work which has been undertaken has been amazing, and the public support has been fantastic! We now know that we have an early example of an urban tower house, and our future works to restore and conserve the building will reflect this.”
Council is confident the exploratory work at the Dobbins will be just the beginning, and over the next three years Mid and East Antrim Council will encourage everyone to learn a little bit more about our local built heritage.
Activities will include traditional building skills workshops, education workshops for primary and post-primary, as well as exhibitions, reminiscence evenings and family fun days.
For more information and to keep up to date you can go to www.midandeastantrim.gov.uk